Salafi-Jihadi Global Tracker

The Salafi-Jihadi Global Tracker provides analysis and assessments of major developments related to the Salafi-jihadi movement.

Salafi-jihadi groups, particularly al Qaeda, have grown resilient in the past decade by entrenching themselves in local conflicts throughout the Muslim world. Al Qaeda affiliates execute the leadership’s guidance through  "deliberate localization” that has allowed them to develop and expand popular support bases in conflict zones. Al Qaeda affiliates demonstrated their continued alignment with al Qaeda’s strategic objectives, including attacking the United States, in a recent media campaign lauding an attempted al Shabaab attack on an American base in Somalia.

Horn of Africa. Al Shabaab, al Qaeda’s East African affiliate, is waging an insurgency across southern and central Somalia and regularly targets Kenya. Al Shabaab conducted its first direct attack on Baledogle airbase, a US and Somali position located 60 miles outside of the capital, Mogadishu, in southern Somalia, on September 30. Al Shabaab militants attempted to breach the perimeter of the airbase using suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. A US airstrike and small arms fire disrupted the attack. The attack failed to inflict any casualties, though al Shabaab claimed to kill nearly 200 US and Israeli personnel.

Al Shabaab heavily promoted the Baledogle attack to place its struggle in a global framework. The attack may indicate that al Shabaab will increase prioritization of US targets in East Africa. The group released statements on October 2 and October 16 claiming the attack as part of ongoing and intensifying operations against Western powers interfering in Muslim lands. Al Shabaab’s emir, Ahmad Umar AKA  Abu Ubaidah, made his first video appearance, with his face obscured, on November 5. He appeared alongside the perpetrators of the Baledogle attack in the video, denounced “American atrocities” in the Muslim world, and called for attacks on American personnel globally.

Yemen. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) participated in the coordinated media response to the Baledogle attack despite its relatively limited media production in the past two years. Senior AQAP official Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al Qosi released an audio speech on October 16, the same day as one of the al Shabaab statements, lauding the Baledogle attack and urging al Shabaab to continue its struggle. AQAP last indirectly referenced al Shabaab in another audio speech from Qosi nearly four years ago. AQAP’s emir, Qasim al Raymi, also released his first audio speech in over a year on November 4 in which he discussed the conflict in Syria, potentially indicating a revitalization of the group’s media wing.

 AQAP has historically posed a significant threat to the West due to its prioritization of external attacks. Counterterrorism efforts have degraded AQAP, including its media capabilities, in recent years. Conditions in Yemen, including local conflicts and governance gaps, favor AQAP’s strengthening in the future, however.

Al Qaeda leadership. Al Qaeda General Command also released a statement praising the Baledogle attack on October 16, demonstrating a high degree of coordination between al Qaeda leadership, AQAP, and al Shabaab.

West Africa. The al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) affiliate in Mali, Jama’a Nusrat al Islam wa al Muslimeen (JNIM), may be increasing its coordination with al Qaeda affiliates. The group’s emir, Iyad Ag Ghali, released an audio speech on November 8 lauding al Shabaab’s attack on the Baledogle airbase. This is Ag Ghali’s first public statement to al Qaeda affiliates as JNIM’s emir. This statement builds on a history of AQIM coordination with other al Qaeda affiliates

 AQIM and other Salafi-jihadi groups have expanded rapidly in the western Sahel region by stoking ethnic conflict and taking advantage of weak states. JNIM formed from the merger of four Salafi-jihadi groups in 2017 and is currently waging an insurgency across northern and central Mali and northern Burkina Faso.

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Dec '19